91st Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
Neilson Barnard

Music Sermon: Why Ya’ll Owe Queen Latifah More Credit

Queen Latifah was one of the first crossover female rap artists, who broke barriers and set standards for not just women in hip-hop, but black women in music to follow.

There’s an abundance of “queens” in the game right now. Yes, we’re all queens and wear a personal crown, I know. That aside, “Queen” is sometimes used a little loosely for artists and entertainers. I’m not going to get into whose crown is real and whose is possibly from Party City, but there’s a sovereign monarch y’all have been neglecting. Long before fan armies and hives were out here staging coronations willy-nilly, there was Queen Latifah.

An eight-year-old Dana Owens was scrolling through a book of Arabic names with her cousin when she saw the name “Latifah,” which means delicate and sensitive, and promptly decided it was for her. When she started rapping in high school, she wanted a title fitting of the name. Latifah told CNN’s Larry King, “I didn’t want to be emcee Latifah or, you know, all these different monikers that you could have put on, but I…thought, Queen, you know my mom raised me to be a queen. Queen. Queen Latifah.”

For the last 20 years of her 30-year career, however, Latifah’s been known primarily as an actress. Much like her industry contemporary Will Smith, the rap career feels long ago and far away. There’s even a segment of fans who are more familiar with her as a singer than as a rapper. In honor of Women’s History Month (and Latifah's recent investment into a housing initiative in Newark, New Jersey), this is VIBE’s Queen Latifah refresher course; a reminder that she was one of the first crossover female rap artists, who broke barriers and set standards for not just women in hip-hop, but black women in music to follow.

Wanna talk about consciousness? Latifah did that.
Singing and rapping? Yup, the first.
Feminism? From the door.
Owning her own entertainment company and label? Did it early.
Acting? Did it. Killed it.
Creating, producing and owning content? Mmhmm.
Brand partnerships? Check.
Beauty and wellness? Yup.
Body positivity and promoting self-esteem? Hello, “Queen.”
There ain’t a door she wasn’t the first or one of the first women in hip-hop to walk through.

The Princess of the Posse

She started as a member of New Jersey’s Flavor Unit, led by Mark the 45 King, a producer now best known for Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life,” Eminem’s “Stan,” and a cut called “The 900 Number,” Yo! MTV Raps’ Ed Lover’s signature song. The Flavor Unit was a crew of emcees and DJs similar to the Marley Marl’s Juice Crew, and Latifah was the stand out star.

Mark passed her demo to influencer-of-all-things-in-early-hip-hop, Fab 5 Freddy, who in turn passed it to signer-of-mad-acts-in-early-hip-hop Dantè Ross. Ross immediately gave her a deal with hip-hop and dance hub Tommy Boy Records.

Repping For The Ancestors

Queen Latifah took her chosen name seriously, and her entire brand reflected her title. In the same 1989 Yo! MTV Raps episode above, Freddy went shopping with Latifah, and she explained her style and homage. “By wearing African clothes, African accessories, not only am I supporting my African brothers and sisters who have these businesses, but it brings me closer to my ancestors…I just feel inner power.”
She named her backup dancers the Safari Sisters, and they sported the ancestral garb with a touch of military flair. They were in charge and ready to battle anyone who tried to test.

Latifah blended reggae, Jersey house music, jazz and other elements into her music, effortlessly switched up rhyme and flow styles, and shifted between rapping and singing, which became a trademark throughout her career. And she kicked global knowledge. Her Queendom was open to all.

Her music was inclusive, but she was also clear that she was talking to the black community first. The conversations about who can enjoy the culture have been ongoing for hip-hop’s entire existence. In one of her earliest on camera interviews, Latifah discussed who hip-hop is for, coincidentally with 3rd Bass’s DJ Serch, a white MC. “By bringing knowledge to our people, we’re bringing knowledge to every other people and letting them know how we live. That’s when (music) becomes universal. That’s where the teaching comes in. [The message is] directed to the black culture, but it’s something for everyone to learn. We have to help us grow first, and then and only then can we associate with every other race.”

Hip-hop was at the beginning of the conscious movement. A mix of Black Nationalism, Islam and Afrocentrism permeated the culture. Rappers started to address blackness, politics and social conditions in their lyrics, and gold chains and Dapper Dan fits were supplanted with African medallions, beads, and prints. Latifah’s other rap collective, The Native Tongues, was at the forefront of the shift. The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, Monie Love, and Latifah rebranded hip-hop, used it to celebrate and uplift culture, and made it more eclectic and relatable for kids that didn’t relate to street stories or machismo rap.

Accidental Feminist

Along with her regal demeanor, Latifah always had the spirit and energy of an elder, a sage. Media outlets called her “the Aretha Franklin of rap” when she debuted, a comparison not only because of her voluptuous build with round baby face, but because of the power and declaration in her voice and message. Over time, she earned the moniker First Lady of Hip-Hop. The Native Tongues called her “Mama Zulu” (a reference to the Universal Zulu Nation collective) even though she was still a teenager.

Latifah always represented equality and power for women. She and peers MC Lyte, Roxanne Shantè, Ms. Melodie and Salt-N-Pepa were fighting for position and respect. Hip-hop is born of the streets; it’s about boasting and braggadocio. There’s a reason why, 30 years after Lyte was the first female rapper to release a full-length album, the field still isn’t level. But from the moment the ladies hit the scene late ‘80s, stepping into a landscape dominated by LL Cool J, Public Enemy and NWA, Latifah and her peers came to play.

Like her self-ascribed Queen descriptor, Latifah’s albums announced the power and strength of black women with titles like All Hail the Queen, Nature of a Sista’ and Black Reign. She rapped about agency, visibility, confidence, self-reliance, and about not letting men play women short. I consider All Hail the Queen is the definitive Latifah album, and “Ladies First” is her definitive song.

Latifah and Monie Love were fast friends from the moment they met in 1987, and Latifah pitched the idea for the perfect collaboration. “She said she wanted to do something that was uplifting for women because it's a male-dominated industry and hip-hop is full of male acts. [Women rappers] do exist but we're few and far between.” Monie told Billboard. "She said, 'I want to do something that's going to empower women and shake the guys up a little bit. I want to call it ‘Ladies First’ because when a guy and a woman walk through the door, it's supposed to be ladies first.' So we built the song around that idea…We had no idea it was going to go down in history as this great woman empowerment song in hip-hop.”

The track was also a milestone moment for women in hip-hop. It was the first collaborative track with two female MCs who weren’t part of a group – and without a man on the joint hogging the light. The vision was originally for three; Latifah asked Lyte to join, but people convinced her it wasn’t a smart move, so she declined. It’s a decision Lyte still regrets. (Me too, because that would have been fire!) Latifah and Monie brought high spirited, high energy banter back and forth as they hyped each other up. Imagine, “Yes, BARS!!” but over a beat.

“Some think that we can't flow (can't flow)
Stereotypes, they got to go (got to go)
I'm a mess around and flip the scene into reverse
(With what?) With a little touch of ‘Ladies First’”

Latifah didn’t realize her ideology and message aligned with feminism. “(‘Ladies First’) is to tell ladies as well as men that we’re coming up, we’re standing proud and strong, and we won’t be impeded by anything,” she said in an early interview. “It’s not a feminist-type thing, ‘cause I’d never call myself a feminist. It’s just telling (women) they have to have more respect for themselves in an age where they are so exploited.” Okay, so feminism with a dash of fauxtep in the beginning. But still feminism. She became the rap mama you don’t want to show out around because you know she’s going to be disappointed (you could get loose with your rap aunties Salt-n-Pepa, though).

As hip-hop grew, the cultural misogyny grew with it. The Queen continued to serve in a mother/big sister role even to the artists in Flavor Unit, which she was then leading. She had a lyrical come-to-Jesus-meeting for black men and women about name calling, street harassment, and a lack of mutual respect. If Latifah is hip-hop’s Aretha, “U.N.I.T.Y” is her “Respect.”

The anthem is still her biggest single to date, and her signature song (along with “Ladies First”). It won the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1995, right behind Lyte’s win for “Ruffneck” in 1994.

On the few occasions opportunity presented to gather a master class of female rappers, the Queen was always on the short list.

The Vanguard of Hip-Hop In Hollywood

Queen Latifah was one of the first rappers, along with Will Smith, Ice T and Ice Cube, to make a successful leap to the screen. In ‘90, she began landing guest spots and small roles in Juice, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Jungle Fever. She was good, easy, natural. But that was due in part to the characters falling on a Queen Latifah spectrum, not that far removed from her artist persona. Just tweaked a little.

When Living Single debuted in 1993, Latifah the rapper started moving aside for Latifah the actress. The ensemble comedy about young, upwardly mobile black friends in Brooklyn was a smash hit, and part of a new era in TV programming targeting the hip-hop generation. No-nonsense but loveable Khadijah James showcased Latifah’s ease and comedic timing.

Like her smaller roles, though, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine Khadajah as the woman Latifah would have been if she’d pursued journalism instead of rapping. Living Single was so successful (it inspired one of the defining mainstream sitcoms of the decade, Friends), Latifah was at risk of losing her rap cred. Hip-hop was still a couple of years away from celebrating and embracing crossover success. With her second album, she addressed anyone who had doubts.

Her cameo looks plus the starring role in a hit series solidified the Queen as a rapper who could also act. Then, she went to an alternative universe where the Living Single crew decided to rob banks: the all-women caper movie Set It Off. From that moment, she was an actress, who also rapped. The brash, gangsta Cleo was unlike anything we’d seen Latifah embody. Not in her music, not in her acting, and not in her personal life as the sister and daughter of police officers. Of no small consequence, Cleo was gay. “Gay, gay, gay” as Latifah herself described. On-camera, not simply implied.

“There’s a lot of stuff people will question about my character,” she told the LA Times around the movie’s release. “I needed to be somebody else to show the world that I had this gift – something I can’t do if I play Queen Latifah roles all of the time. I wanted to make a statement with a character who’s really quite opposite of who I really am, and establish a different voice.”

After Set It Off, there were no more small roles for the Queen. In her career to date, Latifah has starred in more than 30 feature films, including her Oscar-nominated turn as Mama Morton in Chicago - the only female rapper to be nominated in an acting or non-acting category. In addition to starring in Living Single, her Flavor Unit Entertainment has also produced multiple TV shows, she’s starred in and co-produced critically acclaimed TV movies including HBO’s Bessie (for which she won a SAG award), and hosted a daytime TV show. Over 20 years after Living Single and Set It Off, Latifah proved she’s also still relatable as the around-the-way homegirl with the 2017 box office phenomenon Girl’s Trip.

Multimedia Mogul

A few years into her career, Latifah began an evolution from rapper to business (not a “business woman” but a “business”…you know the rest). After Mark the 45 King developed a serious drug habit that threatened Flavor Unit, Latifah and partner Shakim Compere took over the brand. “She was the one who became the most successful. She had the finances to incorporate the name and to build a brand around it,” former crew member Lakim Shabazz explained to Red Bull Music Academy. “We sat down as a unit and discussed this, and everyone came to the agreement that it was okay for her to do that. So she incorporated the name and they got Flavor Unit Management, and eventually they built the label and the movie company.”

Flavor Unit Management continued to represent some of the original crew like “Gangsta B*tch” rapper Apache, took on Naughty by Nature, and at various points managed OutKast, LL Cool J, Monica, Faith Evans, Total, SWV, Groove Theory, Monifah, Gina Thompson, Donell Jones and Zhané. In between her second and third albums, Latifah left Tommy Boy for Motown Records and her own Flavor Unit Records imprint. By 1993, she was the head of her own management company and label. In 1995, they branched into film and television production.

Flavor Unit Entertainment has produced several of Latiah’s film vehicles including Beauty Shop, Just Wright, Last Holiday and Bessie; and TV shows including VH1’s Single Ladies (which I’m not ashamed to say I miss). The company had brokered content deals with Centric/BETHer and Netflix in recent years for new projects. Latifah’s busy.

The Queen has been an example for entertainers-turned entrepreneurs. MC Lyte celebrated her hustle and acumen in an open letter for Billboard, “My sister, the Queen, has single-handedly changed the way every female MC looks at their business and perhaps more importantly, has no doubt changed the way the world views female MCs and their business potential.”

All That Jazz

With success comes freedom to explore and push boundaries. Latifah sang at church and at school before she started rapping, and once her career was secure, she allowed herself room to be a vocalist. She started with her acting roles, first as a jazz singer in the 1998 movie Live Out Loud.

It’s worth noting that “Lush Life” is not an easy song to sing. Sinatra left it off an album after finding it too difficult. Latifah isn’t just a hold a melody singer. She’s a forreal singer.

Four years later, she dived head first into a full-out musical playing Mama. I mentioned she was nominated for an Oscar, right?

In 2004, she released The Dana Owens Album, a collection of jazz and soul standards. The album was a fair commercial success; it cracked the top 20 of the Billboard Top 200 and almost hit the top 10 of the R&B albums chart. It also garnered a Grammy Nomination for Best Jazz Vocal. She stuck with jazz for her following album, 2007’s Travelin’ Light. This time, the LP spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Jazz albums chart and garnered an additional Grammy nomination, for Best Traditional Pop Vocal (which is the same category Tony Bennett wins pretty much annually).

If you go see Latifah perform today, just know there’s gonna be a jazz set. Come like 30 minutes late if you’re just trying to see Queen Latifah and not Dana Owens.

I can’t think of any other hip-hop artist who completely switched up genres. This isn’t even in the same vein as Lauryn being an R&B singer. This is like Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson playing two fundamentally different sports on a professional level.

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Cover Queen

Latifah continued to prove her versatility by becoming a spokesperson for cosmetic giant CoverGirl in 2001, laying a foundation for brand ambassadors Janelle Monàe and Issa Rae to come later. In 2006, she became the brand’s first spokesperson to create their own line of products, launching the Queen Collection for women of color.

For years, the mainstream beauty industry has ignored the needs of darker-hued women, enough so that the array of shades available in Rihanna’s Fenty line was disruptive - in 2017. Latifah was proud of her representation as a CoverGirl, then an encounter with a fan convinced her the line was necessary. “The woman came up to me and was like, ‘I’m so happy for you and CoverGirl. I love that, but I wish y'all made a shade in my complexion.’ When she said that, it didn’t go past me, it stuck with me,” she told Essence. “I [thought], ‘okay, let’s go make a shade in your complexion’. I thought why am I CoverGirl if we can’t get our different shades?”

The Queen Collection is still one of CoverGirl’s best-selling lines, and one of the most popular makeup lines for women of color.

She may have done away with her trademark crown hat - she said people made too much of it, and anyone who’s been “Peace, Queen”ed excessively can probably relate – but Latifah has never been dethroned. She has consistently checked boxes and hit new benchmarks since her career began, although she’s said that wasn’t her goal.

“The goal was just to make a record, and then the goal was to do a TV show,” Latifah told Ebony magazine in 2007, “and then the goal was to make movies, and then to produce movies and produce records.” Whether intentional, guided by grace, or just by luck plus perseverance, however, Dana Owens has become one of the biggest stars not just in music, but period. She is universally respected and loved. The Queen still reigns, and we are merely her subjects.

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Sean Zanni

Swizz Beatz On Art Endeavors, 'Godfather of Harlem,' Son Painting His Nails

Swizz Beatz has already established himself a rap legend, with 20-plus years of production credits with hip-hop and R&B greats. But now, the passionate collector and curator is making just as much of a name for himself in the art world. He and his wife Alicia Keys have founded The Dean Collection, which loans pieces to museums and galleries around the world while advocating to get creators paid and introducing art to new audiences. Those endeavors continued this week, as their entity partnered with the Marriott Bonvoy and American Express for the platform, "Women In Art."

At an intimate dinner in New York City, the organizations honored Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of the renowned Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. Bellorado-Samuels worked with two artists, February James and LaKela Brown, who created two pieces that will be on display at the Dream Party event during Art Basel in Miami, Fla. Similar to his work in music, Swizz is always pulling the strings, both publicly and behind the scenes, to present valuable artists at their best.

But don't let his art endeavors make you think he's not still active in music. His 2018 album Poison was one of the year's best with collaborations with the likes of Nas, Lil Wayne, and Young Thug. This year, he's dropped weekly heat for the soundtrack of Godfather of Harlem, a new show on Epix starring Forest Whitaker as 1960s crime boss Bumpy Johnson. The songs have featured Rick Ross, DMX, A$AP Ferg, Dave East, Jidenna, Pusha T, and many more – and Swizz is overseeing them all as the executive music producer. VIBE spoke to Swizz about honoring women in art, creating a soundtrack without having finished the show, and his response to online controversy surrounding his son.

---

VIBE: So what’s the occasion for tonight?

Swizz Beatz: Tonight is the announcement of the continuation of my partnership with Marriott Bonvoy and American Express with the Dean Collection. Tonight, we’re celebrating an amazing female force behind the creatives in the art world, her name is Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. Then we have two accompanying artists that we’re celebrating that we added to the celebration, one’s name is February and the other’s name is LeKela. It’s an honor to celebrate these amazing women in art and have great partners like American Express, Marriott Bonvoy, and push the conversation forward.

The partnership first started with an interest in the Dean Collection and all the different things we’ve been doing around the world with the arts and giving back. American Express and Marriott Bonvoy felt it was a perfect opportunity to fuse the two together and make the message louder. Very organic.

Tonight, the event is honoring Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels. What made her the right choice for this?

She works with Jack Shainman, which is a very popular gallery.  Seventy percent of my collection in the past five years has been through that gallery, and she’s the person that’s behind the scenes dealing with the artists, all the phone calls and all the emails, but then also always showing up to everybody else’s events. So I thought, why don’t we celebrate the person who always celebrates? Just thought it was a great way to spotlight, give her an award, let her smell her flowers, let her know that she’s appreciated for all the work she’s done to give everybody else life in the art world.

We’re having a party called the Dream Party, which is a pajama party, and then you see the two artists designed those pajamas. Those are going to be for sale, and the proceeds go to those artists. Just thinking outside the box and having fun. I think it might be the first pajama party at Basel.

Are women recognized as they should be in the art world, or is this against the grain in that respect?

Man, there’s so much work still to be done. I think women in the art world make up three percent of the sales, so it’s our job to increase that number by any means necessary. It starts with things like what we’re doing now. Putting the spotlight and having a male, and also my wife, who’s a part of the Dean Collection, saying “let’s do something where women can feel special as well, and boost the awareness so we can try to even out the numbers a little bit, just like everything else in the world.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

🖤🤓 I am super thankful to have been recognized for my work in the Art community by @AmericanExpress, @MarriottBonvoy, @TheDeanCollection, and my dear friend @TheRealSwizzz as part of their platform to support “Women in Art”. This recognition means the world to me and I am excited to continue being an advocate in the art community in order to help spotlight other women creatives like the insanely talented @LakelaBrown and @FebruaryJames. I’ll be unveiling more soon at Miami Art Week with #mbonvoyamex #AmexAmbassador #ad (but I mean it)

A post shared by JØɆØ₦₦₳ bellorado-samuels (@joeonna) on Nov 15, 2019 at 3:01pm PST

You also have a talk coming up at Art Basel with Kehinde Wiley. How did that come together?

Kehinde Wiley started an honors residency called Black Rock in Senegal. We went there for the opening to support him. This talk is raising money for Black Rock. Kehinde was the first artist to officially participate in No Commissions as an established artist, even when everybody was scared to do it. Just the fact that it was going towards Kehinde, I had to support him. He’s a real brother.

A few minutes ago, I said that I’m not in the art world, and you said that I can be. For someone who’s not a collector yet and who doesn’t have the means that you have, how would you suggest they get involved?

There’s a lot of information online, there’s a lot of gallery shows. And there’s art available for people of all levels financially. That’s one of the stigmas, that art is only for rich people. That’s not the case. Art is available for whoever wants it, it’s just the scale that you want to play on at that time. Get your entry point, and it goes up from the entry point. Just like No Commissions, you can get an amazing print from an amazing artist like Swoon. That money goes toward Heliotrope, which is a foundation of helping people, for $30. There’s no excuses. But in the near future, I have my technology coming out called Smart Collection, which is going to give people an entry point on how to really get it cracking.

You ever think back to when you first started collecting and think “man, I’m at the point where I’m getting artists paid, I’m speaking to one of the greatest artists in the world at Art Basel.” How often do you think about how far you’ve come in that respect?

I reflect on where I’m at now, but I still know that I’m only just beginning. There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m happy that I was a part of bringing African American collecting--whatever we helped do, we’re forever thankful. But it’s about all forms of art. And all colors, by the way. Art has many colors, but I see none of them. I feel like a dope creative is a dope creative. We invested heavy into African American art because we weren’t owning enough of our own culture. We have artists from all around the world in our collection. So it’s pretty balanced out. It’s been fun collecting living artists and having a relationship with them, and being able to do things like we’re doing here tonight with our partners at American Express.

You’ve done a great job with the Godfather in Harlem soundtrack songs every week. How have you been putting that together?

It’s been fun. I’ve turned every night in the studio into an event, and it allowed me to step out the box. Every week you hear a different sonic, and it sounds like it’s for the show, but the show is based all the way back then but it feels now. I just got in my zone. I’m happy with where the show is going, it’s breaking records. I’m happy to be the executive music producer.

Are you watching each episode and breaking down plots for the artists to create songs to?

I’m just playing clips, and I’m letting them write to those clips. That’s why the songs feel like they were meant for the show. No particular order. I didn’t watch the whole series yet, I watch every Sunday as a fan. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.

In recent weeks, your wife Alicia Keys posted about your son wanting to paint his nails but being afraid of being teased in school. How is he holding up, and how do you and Alicia foster a household that can embrace creativity and feminine energy?

We let our kids have their freedom. That incident she was talking about was a one-time incident. That wasn’t something he asks to do every day. He’s four years old. He’s in the nail shop with his mom, and he’s like, “that looks cool.” That’s art to him. Us as men, now, we all put our mother’s shoes on when we were younger. We were exploring. Name one person who didn’t put their mother’s shoes on growing up. We don’t cut off the exploration and give a four-year-old a label. My son is harder than most guys I know; he’s a real serious kid, to be honest. If you look at his Instagram, he’s one of my more serious kids. But he’s also open to express how he wants to express. Although as a father I’m going to teach him things to know to protect himself, I’m also going to let him explore himself. I am who I am because I was able to explore. We just live in a world sometimes where people want to put a label on something, but you can’t put a label on a four-year-old. My wife had a great message. It probably was misinterpreted, but she meant what she said, and I stand behind what she said. I don’t have any labels on my kids.

Continue Reading
Lee Steffen

MK Asante's 'While Black' Docuseries Explores Being A Gifted POC In America

The bravery of the youth has been at the heart of some of the nation's most prominent organizations like the Black Power movement, civil rights movement, and Black Lives Matter, to name a few. The unparalleled courage of raw-minded young adults is uplifting, educational, and not to be ignored. One person paying attention to the shorties of the future is activist and professor, MK Asante.

Asante, author of Buck: A Memoir and It's Bigger than Hip-Hop, joined forces with Snapchat for a ten-episode docuseries titled While Black with MK Asante, produced by Snap’s joint venture with NBCUniversal, Indigo Development and Entertainment Arts, along with Main Event Media. The program explores what it means to be young, gifted and black through the lens of several young men and women who are making a radical change within themselves and their communities

"On average, over 210 million people use Snapchat daily, and 90 percent of 13-24-year-olds in America are on Snapchat, so we want to create a series that dealt with some really important and impactful issues, and deal with it where the kids are," MK Asante said during a phone conversation with VIBE. "We want to create a show that starts a conversation and empowers them on their phones. Snapchat has been a pioneer in mobile storytelling. And this series explores what it means to be young gifted and black in America."

The professor of English and film at Morgan State University spoke to us about While Black With MK Asante, lessons gleaned from kids hosting the Snap Originals series, and more.

...

VIBE: The kid Nasir, who talked about being shot...the intelligence he has for being in tune with his emotions is inspiring. Many of today's young rappers are in tune with their emotions like that.  Asante: That’s my nephew. He’s 19 years old, he’s been shot. He survived all of that and makes music. In his music he tells the story, it’s a very inspirational story. He’s 19 and he’s found his purpose. And he understands why he’s here now. But he also talks about his perspective on gun violence.

Nasir talked on his own. Those weren't questions I asked him. He started on his own talking about PTSD, and what that’s like. The film crew observed that my nephew is very observant. In a way that’s noticeable. You’re dealing with someone who notices every single thing around him, behind him, in front of him, every car that rides by. Someone commented on that, and he said, "It’s PTSD. I’m aware of everything. I have to be."

Can you tell me about one of the kids you spoke with who is doing amazing work in his/her community?   Thandiwe Abdullah, she's a 16-year-old co-founder of the Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles Youth Vanguard. She helped organize, and lead a bunch of demonstrations, and a bunch of actions that ultimately lead to the overturning of racism in L.A. school policy in random police searches of kids' bags and stuff like that. We talked to her about all of these issues. You have more hope for the future because you realize that there are young people like that who get it.

Speaking of random police searches, when they use language about high crime rates in these areas, how do you combat that? It’s not an argument that we honestly heard while we were making the show, but it’s an argument that I have heard. When you look at the numbers, statistically, you realize that the great majority of African American kids are not criminals. I think the problem is that we’re really talking about perception, we’re not talking about reality. We're talking about the perception that I’m going to do something, not that I’m doing something. How do you perceive someone, and why do you perceive someone the way that you do? Why does a cop throw a 12-year-old child down to the ground and punch them? Because they do not perceive that child as a child. And that’s what we talk about in one of the episodes. It’s not about any realities that are happening. It’s really about a distortion of media, and distortion in the media and distortion over time. This isn’t new.

What did you observe while working with these gifted black kids? I observed that to be young, gifted and black in America means to remove the limitations. The young people that we feature in the show and the spirit that we want to capture is really a spirit of victory, a spirit of overcoming impossible circumstances. One of the things that I see the young people creating is a new language and with a new language comes a new reality.

The show also exposed me to lots of young people around the country, and their articulation of what they’ve been through and what they're going through and even the system was amazing, powerful. They inspired me. That’s one of the things I love about documentary-based stuff. It’s real people. I always feel like I walk away with real information.

For MK Asante, what does it mean to be a black man in America? Not having limitations. Create a new reality, a new language, and a new world. I know that sounds counterintuitive because we’re taught you can’t do this while black, you can’t do that while black. But that is not the totality of our experience.

Continue Reading
Gabe Ginsberg

10 Indie Artists Issa Rae’s Label Raedio Needs To Sign

Insecure star and creator Issa Rae has steamed up timelines all across social media with her trailer for the upcoming rom-com, The Photograph. But after spending much of recent years behind the camera and in front of it with her popular show Insecure and as an executive producer for Robin Thede's Black Lady Sketch Show and Rap Sh*t, she's taking a stab at the music business.

In October, the award-nominated creative announced Raedio, a joint partnership with Atlantic Records which will enable her new baby to carve out more space in the crowded entertainment industry.

“Music has always been an essential part of every project I do and working with emerging talent is a personal passion,” Rae said in a statement. “Raedio allows me to continue that work within the music industry and audio entertainment space. The Atlantic team are innovators in terms of shifting and shaping culture. I’m excited to join forces with them to discover new artists."

Her label reveal kicked off the introduction of Raedio’s flagship artist, Haitian-American singer-rapper TeaMarrr and her single, “Kinda Love.” At the Soul Train Awards this week, she introduced Teamarrr to the audience for a solid performance of the single.

Rae’s track record with spotlighting “female, independent” artists is pretty impressive. From featuring music by Saweetie to SZA to Houston’s own Peyton on her show and soundtracks, Issa has an ear for future sounds unlike anyone else in the biz right now.

With that in mind, VIBE imagines 10 indie acts that we’d love for Issa Rae to sign to her budding label and champion artistic evolution.

***

Emmavie

If Issa is looking for new sounds in the “intense and sensual” department, then Emmavie is the right artist to turn to. Her rhythmic sensibilities enhance any room where lovers are looking to have a red light special moment. Much like her television counterpart, the Harrow, London original writes, arranges, and produces her own music with a mix befitting of Insecure’s vibe. Emmavie’s unique blend of electronic, R&B, and jazz on songs such as “Distraction” and “Can’t Get Over You” would play well over scenes where Molly is caught up between her would-be lovers, Niko and Dro.

Mylezia

Mylezia is considered by most underground R&B/soul lovers as the “King of the First State.” The Delaware Valley native has been recognized by her peers as a rising pop phenom with songs such as “Can’t Trust Your Smile” and “Party Of One” racking up thousands of views and streams online. Her independent success caught the attention of Meek Mill, which meant that the young sensation has not one but two cities riding for her. A nuanced performer with the radiance of a blockbuster supernova, Myleiza can be as powerful as any of today’s pop stars, while remaining down-to-earth like our favorite around-the-way-girls. Backed with an angelic voice and a long family history of singers, Issa Rae’s Raedio label would be betting on a sure winner with Mylezia.

Quiñ

Pasadena all the way down to the socks, singer-songwriter Bianca Leonor Quiñones has been a name that has rang bells around the indie LA R&B scene for some time. Better known as Quiñ (pronounced “Keen”), her song “Mushroom Chocolate” landed into lover’s Valentine’s Day-inspired date night playlists, thanks to her silky vocals and its guest star, Atlanta rapper-singer 6LACK. Her latest project, 7th Heaven, promises to up the ante with a true sense of after-hour musical adventurousness, which, judging by this, is right up Insecure’s lane.

Liza Colby

Oozing danger and sensuality are two traits that singer-songwriter Liza Colby holds in spades. As the frontwoman and lead for The Liza Colby Sound, her sexy-soul vocals are paired with gritty garage textures that make for a thumping, late-night romp. Like Insecure, Colby exerts a confident charisma that blows away the competition and attracts people who enjoy good music with a bit of a rough edge. For example “Cryin,” off the band’s Draw EP, is powerful and free, yet a bit reluctant and demure as well. It would make for a perfect pairing alongside franchise artist, TeaMarrr, whose “One Job” sounds similar in subject and tone.

Jamilah Barry

Jamilah Berry is a super-talented songstress with a strength in storytelling. Her replay-worthy 2018 EP, Salix Babylonica, placed her squarely alongside other UK R&B/soul artists such as NAO and Jorja Smith, thanks to her vocal skill and deft songwriting. Her ability to extricate emotion from inner conflict on songs like “Sunblock” and “More Than (>)” is a trait that Insecure fans have come to know and love from Issa Rae, making this Raedio connection one that would work greatly if it were to happen. With cosigns from Nile Rodgers and Roy Ayers, adding Jamilah Barry to Issa’s label roster is a soulful vibe worth clamoring for.

Yung Baby Tate

Even though 2020 is the year Yung Baby Tate will break out to the masses, Issa Rae has a chance to close by signing this ATL superstar talent. After gaining momentum in the streets with her #MegatronChallenge, bookended by her GIRLS and BOYS projects, Yung Baby Tate is setting her sights higher — and what better way to do so than be a part of Raedio? The versatile artist has explored the alternate identities of girls and women, making jams like “That Girl” and “Freaky Girl” standout amongst all the rest in the game. With Tate on board, Insecure could feature an artist who is thrilling when she’s just being herself on records.

BbyMutha

To call bbymutha “underground” is a misnomer. The Chattanooga MC, whose real name is Brittnee Moore, is a new type of role model. Her parental advisory raps advocate for women to keep fake dudes in the rearview mirror and their money ambitions in the front. Think if Tiffany DuBois was riding for working mothers everywhere set to songs like “Rules” and “Lil’ Bitch,” and you have bbymutha. Raedio could serve as a stable place for the self-proclaimed “work-from-home” mother of four and her upcoming album, Prosperity Gospel. If Issa Rae has cultivated a career where she’s been “rooting for everyone Black,” then signing bbymutha would enable her to move into her “Spooky Mutha Mansion” without begging the white man for a job.

Tiffany Gouche

Tiffany Gouche is no stranger to the music scene, having worked with or shared a stage with the likes of Masego (“Queen Ting”), Terrace Martin (“Never Enough”), Lalah Hathaway (Honestly, 2017) and more. An all-around musician, Tiffany earned everyone’s attention back in 2015 with her esteemed Pillow Talk EP. “Red Rum Melody” might be a bit dated for another sexy-sex scene between Issa and Daniel, but songs like “Dive” and “Down” could be playful and flirty songs that would turn Raedio from a boutique label into a powerhouse that creates a much-needed discussion through stirring melodies.

Joy Postell

Joy Postell is a rising soul singer from Baltimore who has already impressed music lovers with her debut album, Diaspora. Singing about self-love, self-acceptance, and self-awareness, Joy Postell packs a punch on every song she performs. Her mesmerizing vocals on “Make Believe” from Back and Forth (2019) and her advocate intonations on “Consciousness” reflect on what’s happening in her life and the world around her. Raedio’s stance as a label that empowers independent women would be emboldened with Joy Postell’s speaking-truth-to-power vibes on deck.

IAMDDB

Manchester hip-hop songstress IAMDDB is defined by her songs of women empowerment, representation, and self-acceptance—three tenets Raedio subscribes to. At only 22-years-old, Diana Debrito has, in the past few years, graduated from a local favorite into a Miss Lauryn Hill-cosigned, buzzed-about artist all throughout Britain. Her wildly popular songs like “Pause” and “Shade” mixes hip-hop, trap, and silky Afro-jazz, and has garnered over 20 million streams on Spotify. As one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” entries on its annual list, her independent status is ripe for Raedio to bring her talents to the U.S. as R&B’s next big thing.

Continue Reading

Top Stories